Comic Update: Twitter Under FireMonday, May 18th, 2009
If you’re one of the few people who read my blog but haven’t heard of Twitter, you may be unaware of the firestorm that started last week when the company decided to alter a feature of their service last week.
Today’s comic (featuring Biz Stone, Doug Bowman, and Eric Meyer with a Star Trek flair) pokes fun at the brouhaha that resulted. It also highlights the dangers of running any sort of social networking site and trying to make feature changes.
As the creators of Facebook have learned in the past, people have opinions. Build a site based on people sharing with one another, then make a change, any change, and you’re going to find that people are going to use your site to share negative opinions about those changes. If they’re loud enough, or numerous enough, you’ll find yourself suddenly struggling with an unanticipated PR disaster over what seems to be the most minuscule issues.
In this case, the big issue was Twitter deciding to remove the optional setting that allowed you to see a reply from one user to another, even if you weren’t following that other user (tweets known as conversational fragments). For quite some time Twitter has had the option of letting you hide those from yourself, so that your chattier friends’ conversations with strangers doesn’t drive you bananas.
However, removing this option angered the people who liked that feature, allowing for what they call “serendipitous discovery”. What better way, for example, to expand your list of industry colleagues that you get useful tips from then to watch who professionals in your field are talking to? (More than a few people now on my follow list I learned about from stalking the tweets of people like Meyer and Andy Clarke).
To sidestep the limitation, in protest Eric Meyer (and many others) started adding > prior to every reply. The catch, of course, was that you couldn’t filter those out, so then suddenly everyone on Twitter was seeing a lot more replies than they actually used to when they had an option.
Thankfully, less than twenty-four hours later this was changed. Unfortunately, you now need a flow chart to determine how your tweets are being seen (here’s one by ReadWriteWeb.) I’m not even going to try to explain it, other than to say some of your replies are visible to others who choose to see them, and some aren’t.
I don’t understand why it was so important for them to make this change, nor am I sure that I understand their new compromise position. (Biz explains the issue more clearly here) What I do know is that any web service (especially a social networking one) should think twice (or heck, three times) before removing a feature from their service that users are actually using, and incapable of reproducing on their own through workarounds.